LONDON — Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster in England, died Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 85.

The current archbishop, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said Murphy-O’Connor died “peacefully” surrounded by his family and friends. He had asked people to pray for Murphy-O’Connor in August because of worsening health problems.

“Please pray for the repose of his soul,” Nichols said Friday. “Pray, too, for his family, and those many friends and colleagues from the diocese and far beyond who mourn his loss.”

In a message written shortly before his death and posted on the Catholic Church website Friday afternoon, Murphy-O’Connor said he was “at peace and have no fear of what is to come.”

Murphy-O’Connor served as archbishop of Westminster, a position that made him the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, from March 2000 until his retirement in 2009. He had been living in west London when he was hospitalized last month.

A native of England, he was ordained in 1956 and recognized as a bishop and archbishop for his efforts to promote closer relations between his country’s Anglicans and Catholics.

His long career was marred by his role in transferring a priest who had confessed to abusing young boys. He was a bishop in 1985 when he moved Michael Hill into the chaplaincy at Gatwick Airport.

Hill was jailed in 2002 after pleading guilty to six offenses of indecent assault against three boys.

Murphy-O’Connor said he was deeply ashamed of the way he had handled the case and apologized to Hill’s victims. He said he had been “naive and ignorant” and guilty of making a “grave mistake.”

Cardinal Nichols said Murphy-O’Connor had learned from his mistakes and worked to curb future abuses.

Former prime minister Tony Blair, who converted to Roman Catholicism after leaving office, praised Murphy-O’Connor as a “source of wisdom and genuine friendship.”

He said the cardinal was a “wonderful advertisement for Christianity and the Catholic Church.”

In his final message, Murphy-O’Connor expressed gratitude for the “many blessings” of his life.

“I thank God for the many priests, religious and lay faithful who have helped and sustained me in my Episcopal life. Nor should I forget the many Anglican and Free Church colleagues whose friendship I have valued very much,” he said.

Murphy-O’Connor worked as a bishop for four decades, starting at the Diocese Arundel and Brighton in southeast England.

Pope John Paul II made Murphy-O’Connor a cardinal in 2001. His parents came from County Cork in Ireland.

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GREGORY KATZ and CAROLINE SPIEZIO
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